Monday, August 24, 2015

Sometimes, Drastic Measures are Called For
Last spring, my e-mail decided to cooperate only sporadically. Its timing was, of course, marvelous. E-mails began disappearing into cyberspace and failing to arrive in my inbox right around the end of the semester, when I had the least amount of time available to remedy the situation. For a few weeks, I worried that friends thought I was ignoring and that business associates really hadn't gotten the things I'd sent to them.

Fortunately, the Apple Store was able to come to my rescue. Unfortunately, this came at a price, and that price was my e-mail stash. It was, shall we say, substantial.

The Apple technician was very kind and understanding -- although he was taken aback by my less-than-organized desktop and amused when I told him I write about organization. He allowed me a few minutes to process my impending loss (mostly because he didn't want to be blamed if I lost anything important, I suspect) and and then we hit the appropriate keys and sent several years' worth of back e-mails hurtling into oblivion.

It was a necessary step -- one that was unavoidable in order to achieve the larger (and more important) goal of a functioning e-mail account.

Three months later, I miss very few of those thousands of emails and am, in fact, relieved to be free of the dead weight of a backlog I could never seem to manage. I still have more e-mails in my inbox than I should, but I've also become more ruthless about what stays and what goes. More important, I've recognized that the time it takes to keep things under control is time well-spent. My goal, after all, is a functioning e-mail account.
As I prepare to begin a new semester -- one which will include teaching freshmen about setting goals and developing good habits -- it occurs to me that my little lesson in technology applies to much more than e-mail accounts. It is, in fact, an illustration of Covey's second habit of highly effective people: begin with the end in mind.

If we don't know what we want, we can't begin to know how to get there. If we do know what we want, we can often cope with drastic measures, and we might even choose to take them.

What constitutes drastic measures will, of course, vary from person to person. In my case, it was letting go of correspondence, much of which was trash, but some of which might have been buried treasure. For a college freshman, drastic measures might mean staying home on a Friday night to study. To those outside of these situations, neither of these measures sounds particularly drastic, but drastic is in the eye of the beholder.

We all want things that are too expensive, whether that expense comes in the currency of cash, time, e-mail or something else entirely. Sometimes we're willing to pay the price, and sometimes we're not. It depends on how important the goal is.

What ends do you have in mind? What's keeping you from them?

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